Memory Lane, Target Style

At this contentious time, I think we can all agree on this: one-way aisles in stores are pointless. They only work if all shoppers move robotically at the same pace, six feet apart. Also, people ignore the arrows.  

I compulsively follow the arrows. I am a rule follower who suffers a twinge of guilt if I go even halfway down an aisle the wrong way. Quickly, I pick up the item I need, turn around, and (phew!) I’m back on the straight and narrow. Wish I weren’t so lame.  

And so I sighed with genuine relief when my Target removed the one-way arrows. Such a pleasant way to shop, not having to think about traffic laws.  

The only one-way route that remains is just inside the store, a row of posts with retractable belts that keeps you from taking a right into the checkout area. Sure, it’s a longer route than my usual beeline back to the milk, but the upshot is that this new route sends me on a This-Is-Your-Life-type trip down Memory Lane. As Caroline turns twelve next week, I don’t mind these sweet reminders of her life.    

Like a sheep being led away from COVID, I follow the aisle that leads to the back of the store. The first stop on Memory Lane is the maternity section, where I went hog wild buying cute tops for my enormous belly full o’ Caroline.  

I round the corner, and there’s the diaper aisle where I once discovered a coupon for a $20 Target gift card with the purchase of two Pampers and felt like I’d won the lottery. It’s the little things.  

Just down the way are the toy aisles, where I’ve stood for hours so Caroline could look at Shopkins, Disney princess accessories, and Lego Friends sets. My eyes would glaze over as she begged for each toy. 

Just past the toys is the seasonal aisle where Caroline got her summertime wish: a bright yellow Slip-and-Slide, perfect for making a fearsome mud hole in the backyard. In the same aisle, different day, I picked up a pair of matching Razor scooters so we could ride around the neighborhood together. Not too long after, I flew over the handlebars and might have lost my front teeth but for the grace of God. Six years later, she still loves the scooter; I prefer my teeth. 

Rounding the corner into grocery items, I pass by the fruit snacks that she loved for years and then, suddenly, hated. A few aisles over are the Eggo waffles, Caroline’s breakfast choice from early age to present day.  

And it was just steps away in the pet department that I found myself staring at a vast array of cat litter, unsure of what to buy having never, ever considered getting a cat. But little girls will do that to you: wear you down with begging until you are weighing features like absorbency, odor control, and whether you can actually lift the litter into the cart.   

Because of COVID, we haven’t been to Target together in several months, but I have a feeling the makeup aisle will be her next destination.  

It may be materialistic that my stations of the cross of motherhood are located throughout the nearest Target, but such is life. In spite of COVID, we’ll celebrate our daughter’s birthday, along with the fact that she’s outgrown Pampers, Shopkins, and fruity snacks in squeezy pouches.  

And for now, I’ll follow the rules and enjoy the walk down Memory Lane, albeit longer and indirect, every time I run out for a gallon of milk.   

-Em : )

Target Bullseye 2

 

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Dreamed of a warm beach but instead dangled my feet in a cold river. Kept an eye on the snake snoozing ten feet away. Lost track of the snake and had to kick the water violently from then on to show all the snakes who’s boss. Not relaxing; would not recommend.

Got a mosquito bite, which became infected. At first, it looked like a red, angry eyeball then spread into a three-inch pink circle, hot to the touch. Took four weeks to fade away. Good times.

Discovered my natural hair color. It’s the exact shade of ground beef after you brown it and drain off the grease but before you add the taco seasoning packet.

Got away with brushing my teeth just once a day on one or two occasions. With the mask wearing and staying at home, it’s surprisingly easy. I apologize in advance to my hygienist Katrina.

Didn’t notice it was “summer vacation” until well into June. The days had faded into each other like ketchup and mustard.

Ate a lot.

Had a Bud Light with every meal for one week in early July. Well, not every meal. It simply doesn’t pair well with Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

Watched every episode of Community, from the funny first seasons to the dismal last seasons. Re-watching ER, now in Season 9. Rest in peace, Dr. Mark Greene.

Cleaned up the same mess over and over.

Laughed maniacally for two minutes when I found Caroline’s wet towel on the floor for the billionth time. Thought my demented performance made quite an impression, which would come to mind the next time she’s tempted to leave her wet towel on the floor.

Was wrong. Many times. Not just about the wet towel.

Kept a journal of my pandemic experience. Wearied of journaling. Last entry: July 26.

Shopped online for things I don’t need. A cold-press juicer (for all my juicing needs?) A pair of rhinestone crab earrings (for all my crustaceous jewelry needs?) A pretty shower curtain. A thing that catches hair before it clogs up the drain. A miniature steel drum. School supplies.

Started therapy.

Wondered what took me so long to go to therapy.

Waited at a stop light, pondering whether the past five months have been one of those disturbing, hyper-real dreams. Glanced down at the face masks in the cup holder and asked, “If it’s all just a dream, then why are there masks in my car?” Dun dun dun.

Hit the gas when the light turned green. Of course it’s real.

***

Switched on the lamp on my nightstand. Again. Felt a rush a relief and gratefulness for our bed, for a book to read, for another day lived. Again. Sank into the hollow on my side of the bed. Exhaled a prayer of thanks for the respite of sleep. Again.

God willing, I’ll do the same tomorrow night. Again.

Turn the lamp on. Turn the lamp off. Close eyes. Open eyes. Put one foot in front of the other. Learn patience.

Summer vacation may be over, but every day I’m learning, remotely.

Pigeon Forge river rocks

The Green-with-Envy Cucumber

IMG_2185(2)_Moment
There once was a cuke
who wished she was a ‘mater.
IMG_2172 (2)
She longed to be round,
thought it would elevate her
standing in the garden.
IMG_2180(2)
But the more she tried to cater
to specs of red and juicy
she got all bent out of shape.
IMG_2178(2)
Just be yourself, cuke,
everyone else’s taken.
You’re shape’s just not orb-like,
you’re more like a snake, and
IMG_2174(2)
whether pickled or on a nacho,
the world is your gazpacho.
IMG_2167 (2)
So be a cuke and not a ‘mater,
not some warped, pale imitator.
IMG_2187(2)
And as the garden goes to seed,
live it up; grow like a weed —
like a weed, be unencumbered,
for you’re an exquisite green cucumber.
-Em : )

Parable of the Crows

Across the lot
I saw crows
three four
huddled picking at
something.
Their eyes turned on
me
sent shivers up my shins.
Their prize
a dove
wings peeled back
like a cartoon spinach can
whose fresh innards
now lived inside
crow bellies.

The blacktop
clean
not a drop of blood near
her discarded
feathery shell.
Her face
gone
eaten perhaps
or taken.
But her heart
smooth red
pointed as a spade
just inches away.

Birds
devouring
a bird felt
wrong
somehow outside norms
of predator and prey
or animal etiquette.
But are we so
dissimilar?

People
must become
things
in order to
make proper
use
of them.

dead bird

Lost/Taken/Found

One evening as I changed into pajamas, I noticed I had only one earring in. I kneeled down and searched the bedroom floor but came up empty handed. Mentally retracing my steps, I had no clue where the earring might have fallen out.

It’d been a busy day. Since the weather was nice, I walked to school, spent a few hours working, and headed out front to meet other staff members for the drive-by parade. After an hour of waving at students and their families, I walked home, this time taking a different route.

They were my favorite everyday earrings—small, simple hoops in a brushed-gold color. I’d worn them at least weekly since sophomore year of high school when I bought them at The Limited.

No idea why I remember that.

As I recalled all the places I’d been that day, I made a mental note to check the school’s lost and found bin, but I’d pretty much given it up as a loss.

I hate losing things. It’s been a few years, but I still pine for the gloves I left in a Chicago taxi cab. Losing things makes me feel forgetful and foolish and—maybe this is the heart of the discomfort—not in control.

***

I’m lucky that I haven’t lost anything more important than gloves, umbrellas, to-do lists, a fleece hoodie. We’re living in a time of great loss—of jobs, security, and, most sadly, lives. One day last week, the front page of The New York Times was made up of thousands of tiny-print obituaries of people who had lost their lives to the virus, a moving tribute to loved ones lost.

And while loss of life is awful, how much worse is the taking of life? The loved ones of Mr. George Floyd must feel a ghastly sense of powerlessness. My heart aches to think of that moment of taking, captured on video, of something precious that can never be found, never returned. A senseless taking, a tragic loss.

***

In infinitely more trivial news, I found the earring. The next morning I walked past the school and there on the sidewalk, one tiny earring shone in the sunlight. I paused, amazed that it was there—scuffed and scratched but intact. I took it home, wiped it with alcohol, and reunited it with its mate.

This minor drama of jewelry lost and found reminded me of this: Jesus is the God of lost things. He described his job as having come “to seek and save the lost.” He told stories about a lost coin, a lost sheep, a lost son, all of which are eventually found and celebrated and cherished.

In times of crisis, I must admit it feels banal to sing, “His eye is on the sparrow . . .” when so many sparrows end up smashed against pavement. Yet I’m compelled, in the sense that I must force myself, to trust the God of lost things will make everything found.

Which sounds very vague: somehow . . . someday . . .

True, we believers in miracles don’t have the logistics figured out, but we can’t just forfeit. We are caught between the losing and the finding, but in the meantime—and these are very mean times—I want to counter the losing with finding and the taking with giving. That is, finding the humility to listen, giving the benefit of the doubt, seeking justice, giving love.

Maybe that’s the start of how lost things are found.

Love, Em

A Chapter Ends

Lately, I’m the town crier of missed appointments. I’ll look at the calendar and say, “Tonight was supposed to be the spring band concert,” or “This would have been Book Fair week at school.”

I’m not sure why. There’s nothing I can do about the cancellations, and some things will be rescheduled. When I tell Phil or Caroline what they’re missing, they shrug. I’m not that torn up about most things, either.

The passing of March 31, however, felt different to me. On that evening, members of Women4given were supposed to celebrate our tenth year. We would also mark the end of the organization.

Women4given had a great decade, bringing together a group of women who each pledged a dollar a day to support nonprofits that cater to the needs of women and children. We gave away $200,000. And it all started with one woman who wanted to make a difference.

My friend KO approached me back in 2010 to see if I’d be interested in joining a “giving circle.” I had no clue what that meant, but the idea is that you gather a group of people who want to make the world a better place, ask them to donate a set amount, and then give annual grants to nonprofits.

It sounded okay, I guess, but the world of women’s groups and fundraising and nonprofits wasn’t really my thing. Fortunately, KO is relentless.

So I showed up to the first service project with a twenty-month-old on my hip and helped make sandwiches for a local summer lunch program. Before I could say no, I was Women4given’s first president. Later, I became the executive director, always glancing at KO to make sure I was doing things right — it was her dream, after all. For five years, W4G was my unofficial job. In 2015, I stepped down from leading, knowing my friends would guide the organization with great care.

Pooling our resources together, we were able to support outstanding projects like these:

  • We donated $13,000 to underwrite the “Brain Bin,” a computer suite with Chromebooks; an elementary-age library and quiet space; and the “Here We Grow” edible garden project for the Christian Activity Center of East St. Louis.
  • We gave $15,000 to purchase computers, printers, classroom furniture, and school supplies for the after-school program at Leu Civic Center in Mascoutah.
  • We granted $18,000 to completely renovate the kitchen and dining area, including new appliances, at St. John Bosco Children’s Center in Belleville.

We funded many other projects, like a dozen wells for villages in Africa, a mobile outreach program for grieving children, and a construction-business internship program to help young people earn a livable wage. I learned so much.

While the life of W4G has run its course, and I’m sad to see it go, I’ve reaped some lasting friends. Marsha Heffner succeeded me as president, then executive director. We made a great team, and I might have missed out on her friendship, if not for W4G.

KO has always had her ear bent toward God’s whisper, and I feel fortunate that she thought I might be interested in this thing called a “giving circle.” For everything, there is a season. There’s a time for every purpose under heaven. I’m thankful for the decade of Women4given. I think we made a difference – together.

-Em